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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rebirth on the Plains

This past week I had an opportunity to take a side trip to the Ashland, Kansas area also know as Ground Zero for the Starbuck fire or the Fire That Brought Farmers Together.
My husband had went to help a friend in the days following the fire.  He needed help assessing the devastation. He needed assistance in finding materials and more.  In the weeks following, my husband has called or texted him on a regular basis at least once a week.  I liken it to following up on a friend who has experienced a death in the family.
It was good for us to hear the humor come back and the tone in his voice change as the rains started to fall, the fences started to be rebuilt with volunteers coming weekly and the grass started to grow. (And when he was making fun of us being stuck in an April Colorado Blizzard.)
Bill said that it has been a couple of weeks since he has had volunteer help, but he does have a few coming in the next few weeks.
There are still lots of fences to be rebuilt, but his cows are about to COME HOME!  In Bill's words, "They need to be here."  The tone of his voice told me that he need them there. 

The signs of the fire damage are still there.  Not just the highway signs, but the burn marks where the fire crossed the highway.  The blackened trees.  The dead cedar trees and the foundations of homes and barns that are gone.
Bill's ranch was on the southeastern edge of the fire.  This is what his neighbor's ranch looks like.  You can see all the old grass left behind.  It is easy to see what the fire had for fuel to spread so easily.
The grass on Bill's ranch is greening up and growing much like the grass in the Flint Hills and Eastern Kansas that is burnt every year.

It was good for all of our souls to visit Bill and I think maybe it was good for him to show us the beauty of his family ranch after Randy was there to see it in it's darkest days.

We had wanted to go back to visit the Anderson Creek Fire area last year, but never could work it in our schedule and we wouldn't have had a 40 mile off the pavement tour either. 

As you remember the fire victims, also consider remembering the fire fighters who were on the front line the first days of the fires and the days following.  Most were volunteers and were from departments that have minimal budgets.  Not only are those volunteers rebuilding their own ranches and possibly homes, but there are trying to get their fire equipment back to where it needs to be as well with an already tight budget.

Enjoy this impromptu video my oldest son took overlooking Bill's ranch while my husband asked him a few questions.  I may have to turn this blogging thing over to someone who has better foresight than myself. ;) My son just wanted a 360° view and my husband was just being his inquisitive self.

If you are still contemplating making a donation to the relief efforts, my favorite one lately is  partnering with Howard Buffet, son of Warren Buffet.  Mr. Buffet is promising to match up to $1 million in donations.  That will make a total of $2 million for the ranchers to help rebuild fences.  You can read more about it here.

Maybe Bill will send me some pictures when the cows return to the grass.  I know I would be happy to see them!

-A Kansas Farm Mom

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Thanks Ursa, Now What?

Today, I am going to ask you to use your imagination.  Do a little daydreaming with me it you will, please?

Imagine, you have this awesome job.  The one you have always wanted, BUT there is a small drawback.  You only get paid once a year when you have completed all the tasks.  You still have to pay all your rent, groceries, utilities, OH and HEALTH INSURANCE is on you, too.

Now imagine, you are less than two months from pay day and something happens out of your control.  Something that could affect your paycheck drastically, but maybe not.  You may get 50 percent of the pay promised, or all, but you need to wait two weeks to find out.  How would the stress level in your household be?  What backup plans/funds do you have in place to take care of your family until the next paycheck comes along?

Friends, this is what the wheat farmers in Western Kansas, Eastern Colorado and the Panhandle of Oklahoma are dealing with.  Their wheat crop was so, so close to providing a paycheck for them and BOOM! the winter storm comes from out of nowhere on April 29th and Poof! there may or may not be a wheat check this year.

Many agronomists are saying it will take up to two weeks to see if the cold weather really affected the wheat or not.  Remember, we drove through the area shortly after the roads were cleared.  It was ugly. 

SEVENTY MILE PER HOUR WINDS had laid electric poles on the ground.  Can you imagine what it did to a thin spindly wheat stem?  Acres upon acres of wheat was laying flat on the ground.  One person I talked to who had walked into many fields said the wheat was almost always broken off or severely bent.  It is hard to believe that any of the plants will stand up again.

And then there were the TEMPERATURES. Once wheat has headed out (the wheat head has emerged from the stalk), temperatures below 28* for more than a few hours is in the head or parts of it do not produce grain.  Some of these fields were under snow and ice for more than a few days.

So, these farmers have paid the rent on the farm ground that they farm, if they don't own it.  If they do own the land, they have paid their property taxes.  They have been paying their family bills AS WELL AS the seed, fuel and fertilizer for the wheat crop.

Now the "experts" are telling them it will take two weeks to decide if they wheat crop is really lost or not.  Now, that may not seem like much to you, but what if the wheat crop is lost and they can put it up for hay?  Hay that would be much higher quality NOW than if it matures further.  What if they want to plant corn?  Corn that would be better served to be in the ground now, so that it can mature properly before the hot, dry weather of August sets in.

Sure crop insurance will help, but do you know how crop insurance works?  Your crop insurance coverage is a percentage of the last TEN YEARS crop history.  You get to select the percentage level of coverage.  Let's remember as my friend Nebraska Wheatie tells us that Western Kansas has been in drought conditions for the last SIX years and just got out recently.  The last six wheat crops haven't exactly been busting the seams on the grain bins.

Our friends in the path of Winter Storm Ursa need a lot of prayers. Prayers for speedy answers.  Prayers for the weather to cooperate better than it did last weekend.  Prayers for their mental health.  I have shared about farmers and mental health issues before and right now, these guys are in a tough situation.

If I know one thing about farmers, it is that they are resilient.  They know how to roll with the punches that Mother Nature gives them.  They know how to squeeze household living expenses out of nothing and then seem to find a way to put another crop in for next year. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with all the farmers going through these tough times.  We know that things will work themselves out somehow.  My thoughts are also with the custom harvesters who depend on having a wheat crop for their paychecks.  Everything is totally out of their control until they pull into a field.  I asked Nebraska Wheatie to share some of her thoughts on what is going through her mind this week and she is concerned...yet, hopeful.  Just like the Ranchers who dug out and continued on after the South Dakota early fall blizzard, and those that have recovered from the Anderson Creek and Starbuck Fires, they will continue won't be easy, but they will continue to produce food for those that forget they even exist in the flyover states.
If you live in the areas affected and are willing to share about your story or pictures, please contact me.  I would love to help others understand what you are going through. We have lived through a terrible situation like this and I understand it is not easy.  The National Media said election night, that they had neglected the Midwest, but we see that they have already forgotten us again.

-A Kansas Farm Mom